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Gaining compadvantagehr mpractices[1]


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Gaining compadvantagehr mpractices[1]

  1. 1. Gaining Competitive Advantage through Human Resource Management Practices Randall S. Schuler* and Ian C. MacMillan Critical to a corporations growth and prosperity is gaining and retaining competitive advantage. Although corporations may pursue many paths to this end, one that is frequently not recognized is capitalizing on superior human resource management. Currently, many companies recognize the growing importance of their human resources, but few are conceptualizing them in strategic terms-in ways to gain a competitive advantage. As a result, many companies forego the opportunity to seize competitive advantage through human resource practice initiatives. However, there are a few companies that do not forego the opportunity. We use them as examples to show how to systematically develop such advantages via a "target/thrust matrix." The end results of this matrix have significant implications for both corporate strategy and personnel and human resource management. In an earlier article, MacMillan presented the concept of strategic ini- tiative and defined it as the ability of a company or a strategic business unit to capture control of strategic behavior in the industries in which it competes (1983, p. 43). To the extent a company can gain the initiative, competitors are obliged to respond and thus play a reactive rather than a proactive role. Consequently, if it can gain a strategic advantage, a company can control its own destiny, and, to the extent it can gain an advantage difficult for competitors to remove, stay in control longer. Thus the financial benefits of gaining competitive advantage are enormous! MacMillan (1983) suggests that gaining a competitive advantage requires an understanding and anticipation of response barriers, intelligence sys- tems, preemption potentials, infrastructure requirements, calculated sacrifices, general management challenges, and punch and counterpunch planning. The purpose of this article is to expand upon his discussion of the infrastructure requirements. In doing so, we will show how companies can strategically utilize these infrastructure requirements to gain com- petitive advantage, particularly through their human resources and human resource management practices. * To whom correspondence should be addressed: Graduate School of Business, New York University, 90 Trinity Place, New York, NY 10006. Human Resource Management, Fall 1984, Vol. 23, Number 3, Pp. 241-255 © 1984 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc. CCC 0090-4848/84/030241-15$04.00
  2. 2. INFRASTRUCTURE REQUIREMENTS Defined here, infrastructure requirements consist of those functions and activities necessary for the effective management of a companys human resources. The major purposes of these activities traditionally have been to attract, retain, and motivate employees. We refer to them as human resource management (HRM) practices (Schuler, 1984), and the key HRM practices include: • • Human resource planning • Staffing, including recruitment, selection, and socialization • Appraising • Compensation • Training and development Union-management relationships The result of effectively managing human resources is an enhanced ability to attract and retain qualified employees who are motivated to perform, and the results of having the right employees motivated to perform are numerous. They include greater profitability, low employee turnover, high product quality, lower production costs, and more rapid acceptance and implementation of corporate strategy. These results, particularly if coupled with competitors who do not have the right people motivated to perform, can create a number of competitive advantages through human resource management practices. For example, according to Glenn Bailey, Chairman of Bairnco Corporation, compensation tied to performance is a powerful spur to management hustle. Under a system where officers with a salary of $100,000 a year can make that much again in bonuses linked to performance, the Kaydon bearing division of Baimco has increased sales from $270 million in 1981 to $442 million in 1983. Lincoln Electric is a leader in small motors and arc welders. Lincoln has a compensation system tied to the companys profits. This system has resulted in the average Lincoln worker making up to $44,000 a year.In addition to the high motivation to produce, Lincoln workers rarelyquit. Their turnover rate is less than one percent. Key to the success of the consulting group at the American ProductivityCenter is its HRM practice of selection. By hiring generalists, membersof its consulting staff can "sell" any of the other specialty areas and alsobe effective in the delivery of those specific services. As Peters and Waterman (1982) point out, all the excellent organizationssurveyed made effective use of their human resources, and they did thisthrough their personnel and human resource management. A further bonus for a companys ability to attract and retain key peopleis its capacity to implement other critical corporate efforts and even ensureits survival and profitability. The essence of this is captured quite nicelyby Walter Wristons (outgoing Chairman and CEO of Citicorp) comment:242 / Human Resource Management, Fall 1984
  3. 3. I believe the only game in town is the personnel game ... My theory is ifyou have the right person in the right place, you dont have to do anythingelse. If you have the wrong person in the job, theres no management systemknown to man that can save you.Edson de Castro, president and founder of Data General, following upon Wristons advice, hired a team of professional managers to direct thecompany, and thereby replace the previous leadership that excelled intechnical and entrepreneurial skills. De Castros strategic change of humanresources appears to be thus far aiding the growth and profitability quitenicely. Commodore International illustrates the impact of not having theright people at the right time. In early 1984, Commodores future wasput in jeopardy upon the departure of several high-ranking, high-skilledmanagers. According to industry analysts these departures left Com-modore without a clear product strategy for the future and cast doubton the future of the company. GAINING A COMPETITIVE ADVANTAGE THROUGH HRM PRACTICES An initial understanding of where companies can gain competitiveadvantages through their HRM practices is facilitated by a discussion of • Strategic targets • Strategic thrustsWe shall briefly describe these via examples of companies that have gaineda competitive advantage through the various targets and thrusts. Exhibit1 identifies major thrusts and targets. After the description of thrustsand targets,, we show how specific HRM practices can be used to gaina competitive advantage. Exhibit 1. Matrix of thrusts and targets. Target Distributors andThrust Self Customers servicers SuppliersCost/efficiency Lincoln Unifi McDonalds Honda ElectricProduct General IBM Pepsico Baltimore differentiation Electric Orioles, Bell Labs Schuler and MacMillan: Gaining Competitive Advantage / 243
  4. 4. Targets There are four targets of FIRM practices that can be used for competitiveadvantage. These four targets represent upstream and downstream ac=tivities as well as the company itself. Accordingly, the four include: self(the focal company); customers; distributorslservicers; and suppliers. Ourearlier examples illustrated uses of HRM practices only within a company.Companies can reach backward or reach forward to help shape the HRMpractices of other companies. For instance; we find companies like Pepsicotraining store managers (Pepsicos distributors) inmerchandizing tech-niquesto help increase store sales as well as sales of Pepsico. Unifi helpscustomers with their performance appraisal systems, making their cus-tomers- more competitive and thus better ablegaragesUnifi products. to buyMercedes has trained mechanics in service (their servicers)throughout the United States in order that Mercedes can offer 24-lourservicing anywhere in the United States. Nissan Motors and HondA Mo-tors offer extensive training programs to their parts suppliers in order toenhance the quality of their products (both them as well as the suppliers).McDonalds offers extensive training to their franchise owners (i e theirdistributors/servicers). Thrusts There are two strategic thrusts, or ways to beat the competition, throughhuman resource management practices. One is a costlef ficiencyt thrust. Thecase of Lincoln Electric; is an example of the use of HRM practices toincrease the efficiency of production and thereby lower the cost of theelectric motors and arc welders. PEOPLExpress Airlines is a similar etc-ample of, a cost/efficient thrust. Unifi, McDonalds, and Honda assist inthe HRM practices of their customers, distributors, and suppliers, :re-spectively, in order to help them keep costs down as well- as to ensurea competitive, and thus enduring, set of customers, distributors, andsuppliers. The second thrust option is a differentiation thrust. The cost/efficientthrust represents HRM practices that are used to improve the efficiencyof. product production_ and thus to lower the:e cost, of thep roduct. The pdfferentiation thrust uses HRM practices in ways to differentiate theproduct or the company from its competitors. Although this may notmake them more efficient,, their farm system and promotion. policies helpdifferentiate the Baltimore Orioles from competitors in the eyes of itssupply; sources-young talented baseball. players. In a similar vein, fordecades Bell Labs attracted the cream of the crop of engineering Ph.D.sby providing programming training for customers employees. As we havewith a similar strategy. IBM was able to differentiate itself from competitorsalready mentioned, Pepsico-was able-to-differentiate itself from com-244 / Human Resource, Management„ Fall 1984
  5. 5. petitors by providing merchandising training and store management training to a fast growing distributor group-the medium-sized urban supermarket. General Electric Power Systems division recognized that its sale of large equipment contracts worldwide depended on a challenging combination of traditional technical skills and radically new financing skills, so they systematically staffed up to secure these skills and now have differentiated themselves as producers of power systems, with af- fordable financing options, in third world countries. The target-thrust matrix we showed in Exhibit 1 provides the firm seeking a competitive advantage with eight broad options from which to launch a strategic advantage. The next question is to ask what particular human resource practices the firm is exceptionally good at, and to see where these skills can be applied in the target thrust matrix. This we have done in Exhibit 2. Planning Increasingly, companies are being forced to link human resource plan- ning with strategic business planning. Companies are taking note of recent census data-those data indicate that the number of young workers in the labor force peaked at 37 million in 1980 and will drop to 24 million by 1990. Meanwhile, each year 2.3 million 17-year-olds are added to the ranks of the functionally illiterate. Among Hispanic 17-year-olds, 56% are functionally illiterate while 47% of the Black 17-year-olds are func- tionally illiterate. In anticipation of a desperate need for literate young workers at all levels, companies such as Texas Instruments and New York Telephone are getting into secondary and primary education to help increase the literacy rate in the reduced supply of labor force entrants in the 1980s. Without such action, the very ability of some companies to survive is in jeopardy. According to Robert Feagles (senior vice pres- ident of Travelers Insurance Company), "The issue of functional illiteracy has coiled at the center of our unemployment problems and it threatens this countrys ultimate ability to succeed in the world market" (Business Week, May 9, 1984, p. 81). Another aspect of planning that companies are addressing is rather opposite to the one already described. It is that of the baby boom bulge (people aged 25-54) that is moving through the work force. This is creatinga rapid expansion of potential managers with a narrowing base of man-agerial jobs. Added to this situation is the desire by many of those inthis age category to be promoted and be successful. Meanwhile thesechanges are occurring in an environment that is becoming more turbulentand more demanding of change by the organization. The intersection of these events is producing a company need for flex-ibility and current, up-to-date skills. Companies such as AT&T, BankAmerica Corporation, Sun Company, and Eastman Kodak Company are Schuler and MacMillan: Gaining Competitive Advantage / 245
  6. 6. Exhibit 2. Matching. HRM practices with targets and thrusts.HRM practice Company example Target Thrust Texas Instruments Suppliers Cost/efficiency New York Telephone Suppliers Cost/efficiency AT&T Self Differentiation Sun Company Self Differentiation American Productivity Center Self Differentiation Data General. Self Cost/efficiency Baltimore Orioles Suppliers Differentiation Unifi Customers Differentiation GTE Self Cost/efficiency Emery Air Freight. Self Cost/efficiency Lincoln Self Cost/efficiency PEOPLExpress Self Cost/efficiency TRW Self Differentiation Delco Remy, Hewlett-Packard - Self Differentiation Self Differentiation Dayton Hudson/Pepsico Self Differentiation McDonalds Corp. " Distributors Cost/efficiency Mercedes Servicers Differentiation Ford Motors Self - Cost/efficiency American Airline Suppliers Cost/efficiency
  7. 7. trying to gain this flexibility and skill currency by offering attractive earlyretirement packages for carefully selected groups of employees. Since itseems as if all the current demographic, economic, and technologicaltrends will continue, it is reasonable to assume that the companies thatmost systematically plan with their human resources in mind will bemost likely to gain a competitive advantage by having "the right peopleat the right place at the right time" to produce quality products efficiently. . Staffing The American Productivity Center in Houston utilizes its staffingpractices to gain a competitive advantage. Furthermore it supports itsstaffing practices with consistent training practices. According to StuWinby at the Center: In hiring consultants we specifically look for the generalist; an individualwho has high propensity to learn other areas in the productivity domain; ani ndividual whose appreciation system and skills span both the qualitative andquantitative aspects of productivity and organizational effectiveness. A valueof the organization is placed on organizational integration. We promote cross-training and a multi-disciplinary approach to consulting engagements. Thecompetitive advantage is that most members of the consulting staff can "sell"any of the other specialty areas but can also be reasonably effective in thedelivery of those specific services. Against consulting firms that are more specialized and do not seem to havethis broad perspective emphasis on hiring generalists and promoting internalintegration among consultants has provided competitive advantage. The Baltimore Orioles also attain differentiation through their staffing practices, this time with their suppliers. Its farm clubs combine a selection policy emphasizing internal promotion and support this with an extensive training system (the farm clubs). Of these two HRM practices, it appears as if the internal promotion is more critical to their overall success. Theresult of both these practices, however, is a product that is clearly dif- ferentiated from other teams in the industry: a consistency at winning,yet retaining key employees at compensation levels far below manycompetitors despite the lucrative bidding that goes on for top players. In order for Data General to successfully implement its new structurerequiring professional managers rather than entrepreneurs, it has slowlyreplaced many of its homegrown managers with more experienced onesfrom outside. The results of this practice were mentioned earlier in thisarticle. To ensure the success of this staffing practice, Edson de Castroand Hervert J. Richman, executive vice president, spent a vast amountof personal time on hiring only those managers whose styles and interestsfit with Data General. The styles and interests that best seem to fit withData General now are those reflecting a desire for organization, long-range strategic planning, and more stable and methodical growth patterns. Schuler and MacMillan: Gaining Competitive Advantage / 247
  8. 8. This practice of careful selection to ensure a better fit between company and employee is also a critical HRM practice at Goldman Sachs. There, every partner interviews every MBA job applicant to ensure that the new employees "fit" the company. : I I I . Care in selecting to bring the right people on board leads naturally to another important staffing practice: socialization. Socialization represents the process used by companies to expose new employees to their culture and ways of doing things. When done successfully, it results in intenselyloyal employees who are dedicated to the company. Companies thathave perfected the socialization process include IBM, Procter & Gamble,and Morgan Guaranty Trust. Often the socialization process begins beforethe employee is hired. At Procter & Gamble for example, an elite cadreof line managers trained in interviewing skills probes applicants for entrylevel positions in brand management for such qualities as the "abilityto turn out high volumes of excellent work." Only after successfully fllycompleting at least two interviews and a test of general knowledge isthe applicant flown to P&G headquarters in Cincinnati, where (s)heconfronts a day-long series of interviews. If an applicant passes thisextensive screening process, (s)he is confronted with a series of rigorousjob experiences calculated to induce humility and openness to newways of doing things. Typically this phase of socialization involves longhours of work at a pressure cooker pace. Throughout this phase andothers of the socialization process, the new employee is constantly madeaware of transcendentt company values and organizational folklore. Suchvalues and folklore include the emphasis on product quality and thededication and commitment of employees long since past.- - Appraising GTE performance appraisals are viewed as one of ~the most 4m,portant tools in the management arsenal. According to GTE Chairman Theodore F. Brophy, the GTE,appraisal system complements the emergent strategic planning emphasis in all areas of the corporation. The appraisal reviews assist executives in clarifying and articulating objectives and expectationsfor themselves and their employees. They give GTE a realistic assessmentof its strengths, weaknesses, and future requirements:. As such,. thecompany is now able to better utilize its human resources :than pat anytime, in the past. Another critical aspect of appraising is correcting poor performance.At Emery Air Freight, the company was losing $1 million annually becauseemployees on the airport loading docks were shipping small packagesseparately rather than placing those with the same destination in onecontainer that. would be carried at lower rates by air carriers. Managementalso found that the containers.-were being used 45. percent of the timewhen they should have been used 90 percent of the time.: -By establishing248 / Human Resource Management, Fall 1984.
  9. 9. a program of positive consequences and feedback, the nearly $1 million annual loss was eliminated. Stories of similar changes in poor performance to good performance and large dollar savings resulting from absenteeism reduction programs and employee assistance programs have been re- ported by many companies. The result is a tremendous gain in cost re- duction and improved efficiency. Compensation In addition to PEOPLExpress Airline and Lincoln Electric, who use compensation practices to gain a cost/efficiency competitive advantage, TRW and the Hewlett-Packard Company use compensation to drive their search for innovative products and services. At Hewlett-Packard, entrepreneurial behavior is stimulated in project leaders by tying more rewards to their success. Successful project leadersare being given banquets, stock options, and personal computers. AtTRW, units or teams are given credit for sales generated in another de-partment in return for helping that department. Consistent with the pre-scription by Rosabeth Moss Kanter in The Change Masters, TRW fostersinnovation by stimulating interdependence through its compensationpractices. And these companies do get what they pay for-a steady streamof product and service improvements and enhancements that help themstand alone among their competitors. Another company that has used compensation to gain a competitiveadvantage is Nucor Corporation. It has simultaneously utilized four dif-ferent group level incentive plans to increase its sales more than 6,000percent and profits 1,500 percent in the past decade. At the equally suc-cessful Chaparral Steel, all employees are covered by profit sharing. Training and Development When Delco-Remy trained its employees in participative management,it succeeded in differentiating itself from all competitors in the eyes ofHonda and others. The success of this training and resultant competitiveadvantage are described by Delcos Keith W. Wander: Honda of America was seeking an American battery manufacturer as a supplierto its auto plant in Marysville, Ohio. Honda wanted a plant which had aparticipative system of management and a reputation for producing a qualityproduct at a competitive price. After a contact from the Delco-Remy SalesDepartment, two American representatives from Honda visited the Delco-Remyplant in Fitzgerald, Georgia. This visit was followed by a second one with Mr.Hoshita, President of Honda, in the group. During the second visit, plant tours were conducted by Operating Team(hourly employees) members. The tours were followed by Operating Team Schuler and MacMillan: Gaining Competitive Advantage / 249
  10. 10. members explaining to Mr. Hoshita how people were involved in the Fitzgerald business, how Fitzgerald and Honda could be mutual resources to each other because of their participative systems, and why a Delco battery was the best- built battery in the world. Mr. Hoshita returned several months later to ask more questions of the Support Team (salaried employees) and Operating Teams. Shortly afterward, Honda of America announced Delco-Remy, Fitzgerald, as its sole supplier of batteries, based upon its (1) culture; (2) quality; and (3) price, in that order. To date, Honda has had zero returns of batteries and zero complaints on quality or delivery. Dayton Hudson Corporation is using training and development skills to create future customers. B. Dalton Bookseller Division has earmarked $3 million over four years for a literacy training program-Their , goals are to recruit volunteer tutors and to tell people without basic skills about the free teaching programs available in their communities. As a part of this, Dalton gives grants to local school districts to hire speakers who will persuade teachers to put more emphasis on teaching reading skills. Texas Instruments is engaged in, a similar program. While the resultof both the B. Dalton and TI programs is of immediate benefit to theindividuals gaining literacy, the companies broaden their base of potentialcustomers over the -longer run.. IBM has followed a similar strategy for manyy years in teaching pro-gramming skills to customers employees-capturing. unending loyaltyof the firms and the employees to IBM products. McDonalds uses training to ensure its distributors of a competitiveadvantage through cost/efficiency. McDonalds uses its intensive trainingprogram at Hamburger University to ensure. that its franchisees or dis-tributors run as efficiently as possible. Although training is also done inorder to attain consistent quality, its competitive advantage from trainingis attained from a cost/efficiency thrust. Union-Management Relationships Critical to the success of many companies vis-a-vis competitors are theirlabor costs. In many industries today, companies face possible bankruptcydue to high labor costs. Helping to lower costs are wage reductionsreached between unions and management. Recently American Airlines,Greyhound, McDonnell Douglas, Boeing, and Ingersoll-Rand have ne-gotiated two-tiered wage systems to help reduce total costs by reducinglabor costs. Without these jointly negotiated systems, these companieswould not have survived. Thus, a companys relationship with its unioncan be critical to its survival, and the better its relationships are, themore likely it is to ever gain a competitive advantage. Crown Zellerbach Corporation and the International Woodworkers ofAmerica demonstrated, however, that a competitive advantage can be250 / Human Resource Management, Fall 1984
  11. 11. gained without reducing total wages. In fact, based upon a recent incentive pay plan agreed to by the union and management, workers earn about $3 more per hour than before on straight wages. Because this incentive system makes the workers more productive, the company in exchange had to give the union greater worker involvement in work related de- cisions. Thus, the workers gain in involvement and salary and the com- pany gains in cost reductions and greater competitiveness. Ford Motor Company has engaged in a program of more worker in- volvement and more cooperative labor relations with the UAW. The re- sults of this program are higher product quality than its competitors and a marketing campaign centered around "quality of Job 1." As with the two-tiered wage systems, this program of more worker involvement gains competitive advantage through cost reductions and improved efficiencies. Similar results of high product quality and efficiency have been obtained at Westinghouse Electric Corporation, Warner Gear Division of Borg- Warner Corporation, and the Mass Transportation Authority of Flint,Michigan. In these companies, gains in quality and efficiency have resultedfrom employee commitment associated with quality circle programs. Inaddition to increased quality and efficiency, these companies have ex-perienced fewer grievances, reduced absenteeism and turnover, lowerdesign costs, higher engineering productivity, and fewer costly changesin design cycles. Although the above examples suggest the importance of human re-source practices for securing an advantage, they have not yet highlightedthe benefits from delayed competitors response. In the next section wehighlight the difficulty competitors will have in countering such a com-petitive advantage when they so desire. These difficulties are due to anumber of Inertia Barriers (MacMillan, 1983). Only by first overcomingthese barriers, can a competitor really counter HRM advantages. BARRIERS TO COMPETITIVE RESPONSE The first of four inertia barriers is the needs-matching challenge. To getthe right person in the right place, as Walter Wriston suggests, requiresa company to engage in extensive analyses. Jobs have to be analyzed,the needs and products of the company, present and future, have to beanalyzed, and key individuals have to be analyzed. Then, once all ofthis analysis is complete, all the diverse needs have to be matched.These analyses are anything but straightforward-multiple approachesexist for analyzing jobs, yet none seems to be convincingly superior tothe others-all have unique strengths and weaknesses. And since manycompanies are only just beginning to think strategically, many are unableto even begin articulating their future products and markets sufficientlyto know what employees will be needed, i.e., what skills, knowledges,and abilities (SKAs) will be needed. Furthermore, even after years of Schuler and MacMillan: Gaining Competitive Advantage / 251
  12. 12. selection research, identifying the SKAs job applicants for managerial positions may and should possess can still be regarded as an art more than a science (Skinner, 1981). All these uncertainties in analysis, let alone implementation, result in a serious challenge in trying to match the information across phases. Hence, there is a great reluctance to do it at all, and competitors will delay responding, as we have seen in in- dustry after industry which has succumbed to foreign competitors. Associated with the first inertia barrier is the second one-attaining consistency. For example, with the recent need to cut costs companies have been rationalizing their structures-a consequence of this has been the need to reduce the workforce. One popular way of attaining this is by offering early retirement benefits. However, companies such as Po- laroid have found this practice to be completely inconsistent with their "retirement rehearsal" and "tapering off" programs. While the intent of . these two programs was to ease the retirement process for its em- ployees, the "golden handshake" retirement benefits have caused many employees to suddenly accelerate taking retirement. Not only does this result in inconsistency between their retirement practices, but often companies lose their best and brightest: these employees know they can take the retirement incentive payment and easily get another job else- where, perhaps even with a competitor. So, aware of the difficulties in attaining consistency across all their human resource practices, and the seriousness of the consequences for failure to do` so if they do try, com- petitors shy away from changing the ways they manage their human resources and postpone meeting the competitive-advantage we have created. The third inertiabarrier is lack of commitment. To changehuman resourcepractices consumes vast-amounts of time and energy: As we have seen,merely attaining consistency requires a great deal of analysis, even underthe best of circumstances, and even more is required to meet the needs-matching challenge. If this is combined with any past failures to changehuman resource practices, it makes it difficult to-get organizational com-mitment to any more changes, starting at the top of the firm and workingdown. Yet it is at the top that commitment must begin. It begins therewith the top level manager demonstrating concern, confidence, and ex-citement -for the product and for the people. In turn, the rest of man-agement and the employees begin to show the same- concern and ex-citement in their jobs and products and confidence in themselves. -LeeIacocca has done exactly this at Chrysler Corporation. The results therehave been astounding. Workers at the Smyrna, Tennessee, plant of NissanMotor Manufacturing Corporation USA are producing trucks of mea-surably higher quality than their Japanese counterparts due in large partto Marvin T. Runyon, president of the firm. Runyon walks the floor ofthe plant to demonstrate his concern and , confidence in the workers. Healso lets the workers make decisions. According to Runyon "decisionsshould be made at the lowest possible level.252 / Human Resource -Management, Fall 1984
  13. 13. Because the time horizon is so critical it is regarded here as a fourthinertia barrier. Skinner (1981) estimates that it may take as much as sevenyears for managers to: install, adjust to, and reap the benefits of majorchanges in human resource management practices; weed out unpro-ductive employees; and create the new generation of employees. It maytake the employees equally as long to accept the changes. This is because"effective relationships between individuals and companies rest on em-ployees trust that the goals [of the individuals and companies] are con-nected. But developing trust often requires overcoming years of bad ex-perience and many employees belief that companies exploit people"(Skinner, 1981, p. 114). Since many managers are rewarded for short-term performance, the time horizon in changing human resource practicesbecomes perhaps the most significant inertia barrier. SUMMARY AND CONCLUSIONS Although there are many ways by which companies can gain a com- petitive advantage, as MacMillan (1983) has suggested, one way often overlooked is through their human resource management practices. HRM practices enable companies to gain a competitive advantage in two majorways: One is by helping themselves and the other is by helping others.So there appears to be a significant benefit from having HRM consid-erations represented in the strategy formulation stage rather than onlyin the implementation stage. Once the strategy is formulated and the appropriate HRM thrust iden-tified, specific HRM practices need to be developed. These practices,such as staffing and compensation, are the ones that actually create thecompetitive advantage for the company. In addition, selection of themost appropriate practices should be appropriate to the strategy andlead to behaviors that are supportive of the strategy; for example, if co-operative behaviors are needed among employees, then group or or-ganizational level compensation incentives should be provided ratherthan an individual-level incentive system. If product quality is critical,quality circles and union-management cooperation should be developed. Once the strategy is formulated, the determination of the needed be-haviors comes from job analysis. The HRM practices that stimulate thosebehaviors must be identified. They must be implemented so as to ensureconsistency across HRM practices. It is this hard-won consistency whichwill help ensure that a competitive advantage through HRM practicesis gained and sustained because of the barriers we have just discussed. In addition to using their HRM practices on themselves, companiescan also gain a competitive advantage through using their HRM practiceson others. Specifically, companies can gain a competitive advantage byhelping their suppliers, customers, or servicers/distributors with theirpractices. Recall, for example, how American Airlines and Honda assist Schuler and MacMillan: Gaining Competitive Advantage / 253
  14. 14. their suppliers to ensure lower wages and better quality and how Mercedes trains servicers to enable Mercedes to sell its products with the guarantee of 24-hour service. In this way they can secure a differential position in the eyes of their stakeholders-and this is often all that is needed to get priority of attentionand support in times when this is critical. The fact of the matter is thatthe firm is.stronger and healthier if its particular =suppliers, distributors,and customers are robust and competitive. While companies are better off when they gain a competitive advantage,few do it and even fewer do it through their human resource practices.There are, however, some notable exceptions and we have attemptedto reference some of them here. For example, Lincoln Electric isextremelycompetitive in arc welders and electric motors because of its competitivepractices; Delco-Remy produces high-quality battery products largelybecause of its participative management practices; and Morgan Guaranty,IBM, and Procter & Gamble are able to attract and retain highly skilledindividuals due to recruitment, selection, and socialization practices. Whilethere is no denying that all these companies have competitors, it is prob-lematic that any are so successful as the companies mentioned thankslargely to their human resource management practices.Randall S. Schuler is associate professor of human resource management atthe Graduate School of Business, New York University. His interests are stressand time management, in addition to personnel and human resource management,and the relationship between human resource management and strategy. He iscoauthor of a personnel and human resource management textbook with WestPublishing (1984) and coauthor of Managing Job Stress with Little, Brown &Company (1981). In addition, he has contributedmany chapters for variousbooks including Current and Future Perspectives on Stress in PersonnelManagement, edited by Roland and Ferris, published by Allen & Bacon (1982),and is coauthor of Human Resource Management Practices in the 1980salong with coeditor, Stephen Carroll, for the Bureau of National Affairs (1983).Ian C. MacMillan is the director of the Center for EntrepreneurialStudies andProfessor of Management at the Graduate School of Business, New York Uni-versity. Prior to joining the academic world, he was a-chemical engineer andhas been a director of several companies in the travel and import/export businessin South Africa, Canada, Hong Kong, and Japan. Professor MacMillan has con-sulted with a number of companies and published numerous articles and bookson organizational politics, new ventures, and strategy formulation. His articleshave appeared in the journal of Business Strategy, Harvard Business Review,Sloan Management Review, Strategic Management Journal, Academy ofManagement Journal, Management Science, and California ManagementReview, and his books are published by West.254 / Human Resource Management, Fall 1984
  15. 15. ReferencesMacMillan, I. C. Seizing Competitive Initiative. The Journal of Business Strategy, 1983, pp. 43-57.Peters, T. J., and Waterman, R. H. Jr. In Search of Excellence. New York: Warner Books, 1982.Schuler, R. S. Personnel and Human Resource Management (2nd ed.). St. Paul, MN: West Publishing, 1984.Skinner, W. Big Hat, No Cattle: Managing Human Resources. Harvard Business Review, September-October 1981, pp. 107-118. Schuler and MacMillan: Gaining Competitive Advantage / 255